The jaw is one of the most important and frequently used parts of the human body. You need your jaw to chew, you need to chew to eat, and you need to eat to live. So the jaw has a pretty clear connection to your very life itself. That’s why jaw pain, especially chronic jaw pain, is so unfortunate.
TMJ, or temporomandibular joint dysfunction, is a term that encapsulates any and all pain and failure to function in the muscles that support the jaw. The very muscles that allow you to chew, talk, and open your mouth to breathe. It’s a syndrome that comes in a number of different shapes and sizes and can affect people old and young. It’s also discussed infrequently, and it’s unlikely you know much about it. So here is some information on the causes, symptoms, and treatment of temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or, TMJ.
The most common cause of TMJ is trauma to the jaw. Trauma can come in two forms: microtrauma and macrotrauma. Microtrauma comes from within the mouth and is usually in the form of grinding or clenching your teeth. This slowly damages your teeth over time and affects the alignment of your jaw muscles, leading to chronic pain.
Macrotrauma results from an external injury in the form of a blow to the jaw. This could be anything from a car accident, to getting elbowed in the face at a Metallica concert, to falling off of a second story balcony. This will obviously lead to short term pain in your jaw, as well as elsewhere depending on the nature of your injury, but can lead to long term pain as well.
Arthritis in the jaw is another cause of TMJ to be aware of. Any form of arthritis is going to lead to inflammation or decay of your joints, and your jaw is one of the joints likely to be affected. This will lead to the disappearance of cartilage in your jaw, and bone hitting bone. This process can be accelerated by repeated trauma.
Severe and/or chronic pain is obviously going to be the number one symptom of any case of TMJ. But this is not pain comparable to a cavity or headache. Jaw pain from TMJ will resonate throughout your neck and shoulders and can lead to headaches and possibly muscle spasms. It is also likely the pain will be so severe as to lead to dizziness and other migraine-like symptoms.
Another sign of TMJ is your jaw locking, usually in a wide open position. The jaw may also shift out of place, with one part of the jaw favoring one side or the other. When the jaw is affected by TMJ and moves or locks out of place, it can even produce a clicking sound that can often be loud enough where others can hear it. This is one of the most surefire and signature signs of TMJ.
Finally, your hearing may be affected by your TMJ. This symptom can manifest in loss of hearing or an unexplained ringing in the ears.
There are several methods of reducing your TMJ-related pain, some even through simple at-home treatments or recommended adjustments in life habits. These are recommended for treating minor cases of TMJ or cases that have not yet progressed very far. They include alternating between ice and heat on your jaw for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, slow, gentle jaw exercises, a diet of soft foods which can be digested through a straw or easily chewed, as well as over-the-counter painkillers and sleeping on your side, with an extra pillow for support of the neck and shoulder.
Splints, however, are one of the most common ways to deal with TMJ symptoms. They are an acrylic device that can be inserted into the mouth over the bottom or top teeth. They add support for the jaw, and help adjust the teeth to a more comfortable position. They are especially helpful for preventing TMJ pains during sleep.
If you require more invasive and extensive treatment, then injections can be administered by a medical health professional in order to reduce the pain caused by TMJ. This should only come at the recommendation of a doctor, and only in the most severe of cases. Ask your doctor if injections could help with your TMJ related pain.